Reflections on the Past Decade of Missiological Research

Recently the International Bulletin of Missionary Research came out with their latest review of doctoral dissertations for the field of missiology.  This is something that they try to do every decade in order to try to understand trends and possibly to identify gaps in missiological research.

Okay ... so most of you are probably asleep right now.  Sorry.  This is something that I'm interested in and ... well ... ultimately, that's what I write about.  It's not like any of you are paying for this.  ;-)

Anyway, I read through IBMR's review and had some random thoughts that I felt like sharing.  Here you go:

1.  I notice that it is still the case that the overwhelming majority of doctoral projects focus on the past hundred or so years of missions.  Roughly 85% of "historically-oriented" dissertations focus on the period of time since 1800 meaning that we continue to understand very little about the first 1,800 years of mission history.  That's a problem, I think. Because, you know, history is really important.

2. There are a couple interesting nuggets about gender in IBMR's report.  In particular, three-quarters of the dissertation authors were men.  The article points out that with about half of all missionaries and more than half of the world's church members being women, this signifies an important under-representation in the field of missiology.  I want to register my personal surprise given the fact that most of my classmates at Wheaton College who were earning the MA in missions and intercultural studies were women.  It was like 4 out of 5!  But then again, whenever I'm hanging around at missiology society meetings, it tends to be a bit of a boys club.  I'm not sure what exactly is going on here.  Are women just more interested in getting to work than in research and lecturing?  Thoughts?

3. Only 3% of dissertations had a primary focus on the unevangelized world -- i.e., where missions and missionaries are needed most.  That seems sad to me and kind of wasteful.  We've long been saying that only 1 in 10 missionaries works among the unreached and this research fact makes me wonder if part of the reason for that is that too few teachers of mission are focused on pioneer missions.  If there is a hidden bright light here, it is that a number of dissertations were focused on the unevangelized living in diaspora in the so-called "World C" (evangelized) nations.  Does this reflect the fact that diaspora missiology is catching on as a new pioneer missions priority?  Does it reflect a move of the Spirit in the Church and the world to complete the Great Commission through the movement of people from everywhere to everywhere?

4. Finally, I was kind of surprised to see that over 1500 missiology dissertations were written during the past decade (roughly the same period of time that I have been involved in missiology).  Of course this doesn't count missiology dissertations completed as a part of a D. Miss or D. Min degree.  Does this mean that there are about 2000 new missiology "doctors" out there?  And if so, what are they doing?  Are they all battling for the seemingly small number of teaching positions available?  Since I still don't have a doctorate, should I be nervous that when I finally do get around to it that I won't be able to land a professorship?

Read the full IBMR report here.

[Photo by AstronomyBlog]

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